Jul 5, 2018
Meet the Needs
David Csillan

Getting an athlete with ADHD to focus in a busy athletic training room can be a challenge, but there are many practical steps athletic trainers can take to help. The keys to success are effective communication and making the athletic training room and rehab protocols ADHD-friendly. Keep the following factors in mind when developing your own plan for rehabbing athletes with ADHD:

They may need a thorough introduction to your protocols. When scheduling the initial evaluation or rehabilitation session, provide uninterrupted one-on-one time to meet with an athlete who has ADHD. Outline and explain their rehabilitation program and answer any questions they have. Conclude the session by taking them through a dry run of their exercises. This first meeting will decrease their anxiety and set the tone for future interactions.

Clear communication is necessary. In order to eliminate confusion and misunderstandings, literal discussions are best. ADHD and sarcasm are a toxic mixture, as athletes with ADHD may not be able to pick up on exaggerations. Therefore, keep all instructions brief and to the point.

An athlete with ADHD may be touch-sensitive. This can cause them to withdraw quickly from a typical hands-on evaluation or ice bag application. An explanation should precede any physical contact. When applying an ice bag to the skin, gradually introduce the cold. First utilize a towel barrier, and then remove it after a few minutes.

Athletes with ADHD may be easily distracted and have difficulty staying on task. External stimuli, such as other athletes conversing in the athletic training room, a song playing on the radio, or the whirring of the ice machine, may interrupt their focus with rehabilitation. For this reason, it is important to provide subtle cues to rein them back in. The cues, which can be established during the initial evaluation session, may range from a small tap on the treatment table to a wink or code word.

Rehab should be simple and easy to follow. Outline the rehabilitation program using a clear, concise checklist that allows athletes to cross off exercises as they are completed. In addition, since the athlete will need to rely on their checklist for reference, it should be readily accessible.

The athletic training room should be easy to navigate. Using labels, numbers, and colors creates a stress-free environment for the athlete with ADHD. Exercise equipment can be marked for quick identification. For instance, you can use dumbbells that have a colored vinyl coating so it’s easy to tell the different weights apart. If there are multiple treatment tables in the room, attach numbers to the base of each. These small steps allow the athlete to be self-sufficient in their rehab and minimize interruptions for the athletic trainer when they are working with other patients.

Athletes with ADHD often thrive on attention and achieving goals. Include both in their rehab protocol. However, any goals must be short-term and attainable. Too long of a gap between accomplishments may cause the athlete to experience anxiety or depression with their lack of progress. In addition, providing immediate rewards for achieving short-term goals will keep them motivated and compliant with their program.

Each individual is different. Just as the severity of injuries can vary from athlete to athlete, so do the specific needs of athletes with ADHD. By the time they reach high school or college, most have a grasp on their disorder and can provide tips on how to best help them succeed. Also, the athletic trainer may consult with the school psychologist or review the athlete’s Individualized Education Program or 504 Plan with their guidance counselor to better understand what accommodations to make.

Image by Spatms.

David Csillan, MS, LAT, ATC, is Athletic Trainer at Ewing (N.J.) High School and a member of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's (NJSIAA) Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. He also serves as the NATA District 2 Secretary, Secretary Vice-Chair of the NATA District Secretaries/Treasurers Committee, and the NJSIAA Liaison with the NATA and NFHS. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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